Safer Internet Day: Strategies for parents and schools to support children and young people’s wellbeing online

Safer Internet Day Strategies for parents and schools to support children and young people’s wellbeing online

Going online is now an integral part of daily life for many people. As of 2023, there were 5.3 billion internet users worldwide. By 2028 it is predicted that 98% of the UK population will have access. To mark Safer Internet Day, we will be exploring in this blog how the online world mixes with our children and young people’s everyday lives, affecting their mental health and wellbeing and what parents, carers and school staff can do to help.

According to the Teens, Social Media and Technology survey in the United States (2022)

  • 95% of teenagers have used YouTube and 67% have used TikTok
  • 77% say that they use YouTube and TikTok every day

 

Similarly, in the OFCOM report on children’s media use and attitudes (2023), the top applications for internet users 3-17 years in the UK were:

  • YouTube (88%)
  • WhatsApp (55%)
  • TikTok (53%)

 

OFCOM (2023), noted, for 0-18years, 89% of children played games, 25% played with people they didn’t know and 22% talked to people they didn’t know. By 8-11 years (Year 3-6) 67% of children were playing games online.

Positive impacts identified, included being more:

  •       Connected
  •       Creative
  •       Accepted
  •       Getting support

 

These positive impacts were supported in the OFCOM research; children who identified they felt connected to their friends (67%), 66% identified themselves as being happy most or all of the time when using the internet. The NSPCC suggests online activity support supports them to:

  •       stay in contact with children and families between meetings, activities and events
  •       provide specialist support to children, such as counselling and therapy
  •       promote events
  •       livestream activities and run online sessions
  •       create online groups, forums and communities.

 

Data from the Millennium Cohort study found that half of British teenagers say they feel addicted to social media. In The Teens, Social Media and Technology study,  54% of teens felt giving up social media would be hard although 38% expressed that it makes them feel overwhelmed. The Big Ask survey shows, children have conflicting feelings about games – seeing them as a fun hobby that they value, but also expressing wariness about the addictive nature of games and other associated harms.  

Whilst the benefits can be identified by adults, young people and children, not always are we aware of the risks and therefore quick enough to put protective measures in place to provide online safety for all. Risks often associated with internet use by young people include:

  • cyberbullying (bullying using digital technology)
  • invasion of privacy including sharing too much information
  • identity theft
  • age inappropriate content or unreliable information
  • the presence of strangers who may be there to ‘groom’ others
  • commercialism

 

The world around us impacts our mental health and therefore our mental health can be impacted by online engagement changing children’s behaviour offline as a result.

 

Parents and carers, how can we support our children and young people’s wellbeing online?

Parenting in the digital age is not easy. Technology moves at a rapid rate and children and young people are much more likely than parents to be aware of and understand the latest advances. As parents there is a deep desire to protect  our children and sometimes knowing how can be very challenging. Research regarding parenting and the impact on young peoples internet use is varied .  Recent research stated

“Support, motivation, communication, supervision, rules and restrictions  imposed on children to continue to use smartphones according to their age are important factors to ensure parenting success in the digital era.”  

Frosch et al. (2021) also identified positive parenting as helping children to face social problems promoting early cognitive development and supporting children to be emotionally balanced. This aligns with the research of Kang, Shin and Huang (2021)  regarding internet behaviour. The study suggested that when teenagers recognise there is a risk, they generally implement stricter privacy management strategies.

There is no right or wrong answer, however  Lanjekar in 2022 noted 

 “Good parenting is how parenting meets the children’s needs according to the cultural standards that change from generation to generation.”   

Practical suggestions for parents and carers to support children and young people’s wellbeing online include:

 
  1. Support and engage with your child’s online life. Discuss the benefits and the risks and what can be done to protect ourselves
  2. Encourage open communication without judgement to ensure children share achievements, feelings including mistakes or fears
  3. Provide guidance and expectations which are age appropriate. Controls that are too tight make young people feel ‘different’ from their peers which can lead to socialisation however there needs to be a balance with ensuring children have guidance and are aware of expectations and risks and what to do
  4. Consider what behaviour you model. As adults it is easy to spend hours on the internet accessing work emails, searching for products, reading the news, playing games without realising the passing of time. Children and young people access different material from adults but often mimic parental behaviour
  5. Seek help and guidance if you are unsure about your child’s online or offline behaviour from available websites (see below) or your child’s school or college. Research into the impact of online behaviour on offline behaviour is very varied, many suggesting the impact is very individualised therefore any concerning changes in behaviour online or offline need to be followed up and the young person supported.

 

Schools, how can we support our children and young people’s wellbeing online?

 

According to the National Curriculum for England and Wales children should be taught to:

  • “Use technology safely, respectfully and responsibly;
  • recognise acceptable/unacceptable behaviour;
  • identify a range of ways to report concerns about content and contact.”

 

The online world has changed substantially since 2013 and therefore now there is greater breadth to the task of keeping children safe online. Hartikainen et al notes in 2017 state:

 “Successfully facilitating children’s online safety is a task that requires teamwork and support from a range of stakeholders including industry, policy makers, schools, …., and parents.“ In some studies where children have been asked about online education they stated they wanted the education to be from a positive standpoint and to help them protect themselves, peers and family. They also indicated they want to know how they can refrain from “actions or impulses that could upset or harm them.” 

This research concluded that children would benefit from being involved in the design of online education programmes as this would support them meeting the needs of children.

 

Practical suggestions for schools to consider to enable them to support young people include:

1. Ensure that the curriculum meets the requirements outlined by the UK government for the age of the children taught including teaching children about

  • what positive, healthy and respectful online relationships look like
  • the effects of their online actions on others
  • how to recognise and display respectful behaviour online
  • how to use technology safely, responsibly, respectfully and securely
  • where to go for help and support when they have concerns

2. The curriculum should be well planned and impact measured so schools are confident the children are understanding and applying their learning. 

3. Personalise the online safety programme to the needs of the school community. Use students to lead the programme and support the education of their peers.

4. Support parents to be educated and informed and share the responsibility for educating their children in online behaviour

5. Ensure teachers have good subject knowledge and experience and are up to date and able to deliver the curriculum confidently

6. Ensure there are strong relationships in school where open communication is encouraged so without judgement, children can share achievements, feelings including mistakes or fears

7. Publicise strategies for keeping safe online across the curriculum and around the school and signpost children to help if they encounter challenges or are unsure.

 

Download this resource here.

School Mental health qualifications to support children and young people's mental health

References